Like they were still kids running around Thunder Bay, Ontario, looking for anywhere to play hockey, Eric Staal and his younger brothers, Marc, Jordan and Jared, would sneak in the back door of the local arena last summer and slip on the ice through the Zamboni entrance.

“My brothers and I would go out early, and the guy would let us skate as much as we wanted to,” the Wild veteran said Thursday. “We did that a lot more often than we have in years past. I think that was good for me just to be on the ice consistently and kind of keep that good feeling instead of waiting for it to come.”

Staal is fully aware that many around the NHL thought his best days were behind him after a couple down years with the Carolina Hurricanes and an underwhelming playoff with the New York Rangers last season.

But Staal signed a three-year contract with the Wild last summer and has completely revamped his career.

At 32, Staal’s resurgence on the ice includes a team-leading 27 goals. His 60 points rank second, and it’s the ninth time in 13 seasons he has hit that that figure. Off the ice, he is one of the team’s most respected players and a pro’s pro who is loving life in a hockey market and proudly helped start the Staal Family Foundation.

The Twin Cities’ chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association (PHWA) has nominated Staal for the Bill Masterton Trophy, which goes to an NHL player annual who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to ice hockey.

“I can see so much of why he was the captain [in Carolina],” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “He is positive. He's all about team. He's dedicated. He doesn't miss games. He doesn't take practices off. He works hard every time he's out there. I am so impressed with him. I'm even more impressed with him off the ice, and the stuff he does around the team than the stuff he does on the ice, and he does a lot [on the ice].”

Staal, who has missed 22 games in his entire career and last month hit the 1,000-game plateau for which he’ll be honored before Tuesday’s game against his old Hurricanes, was committed to showing everybody he can still play this game.

“I wanted to bounce back with how things went last season for me personally,” he said. “I was fortunate to end up where I have. This is a great organization and a great place for my family, and I'm excited for hopefully bigger things the rest of this season.

“I’ve felt really comfortable from Day One. These guys accepted me and were excited to have me. That was the biggest thing. Just having guys that have been in the league with the experiences they've had and then being pumped for me to join was a good feeling for me. I was equally as excited to come alongside. It was a good feeling.”

The Staal Family Foundation focuses on giving to local charities and children and families fighting cancer. It hits close to home for Eric and wife Tanya, whose sister, Tamara, passed away of liver cancer at 24. The foundation raised $250,000 last year. Its golf tournament, which is a PGA Tour Canada stop, July 10-17.

“It means a lot to all of us and our family just to be able to do something extra,” Staal said. “To help out in anyway that we can is important to us. It always will be as we move on.”

Other Wild Masterton nominees were: Nate Prosser (2015-16), Devan Dubnyk (2014-15), Josh Harding (2013-14, 2012-13), Clayton Stoner (2011-12), Pierre-Marc Bouchard (2010-11), Guillaume Latendresse (2009-10), Kurtis Foster (2008-09), Aaron Voros (2007-08), Marian Gaborik (2006-07), Wes Walz (2005-06, 2000-01), Alexandre Daigle (2003-04), Dwayne Roloson (2002-03) and Richard Park (2001-02).

Harding was named the 2013 recipient of the Masterton Trophy to become the first player in Wild history to win a voted-on NHL Award. Dubnyk was named the 2015 Masterton Trophy winner.

Alex Stalock starts today, meaning Dubnyk tomorrow.

Jason Zucker is out with a lower-body injury. Erik Haula, expected to be scratched, will now play for him.

Nate Prosser and Jordan Schroeder are out, and Zach Parise returns